What do you do with a time capsule that was dug up prematurely?
In 2002, the Rotary Club of Tahoe City installed a flagpole, a plaque mounted on a boulder, and a time capsule at the wye in Tahoe City. Sometime in 2018 or 2019, when the new bridge across the Truckee River was built, initial groundwork was completed for a roundabout that is planned to replace the stoplight. At that time, all of the Rotary’s handiwork, as well as the large metal trout sculpture, was removed. Now that the time capsule has been returned to the Rotary and is looking for a new home for its next 50 years, we thought we’d take this opportunity to discover what’s inside.
“One day I got a phone call from Placer County and they said, ‘come pick up your property,’” said Tom Doyle, president of the Rotary Club of Tahoe City.
He didn’t respond right away, but a few days later Doyle received another call asking him to pick it up or it would be thrown away, which got him off the dime. Doyle wasn’t part of the Tahoe City Rotary back in 2002, so he didn’t grasp the purpose of this 4-foot high, sealed cylindrical metal object that has “Rotary Club of TC” and “NT Historical Society” engraved on the top.
With a bit of research through the extensive collection of Tahoe World newspapers at the historical society’s Gatekeeper’s Museum, Doyle discovered that it is a time capsule that was buried at the wye with the intention to open it 73 years later, in 2075.
According to the Tahoe World article written in 2002, the time capsule contains: 70 essays written by a group of local writers who expound on their thoughts about Tahoe City; survey answers from 50 fifth grade students at Tahoe Lake Elementary about growing up in Tahoe City; and 150 photographs of downtown Tahoe City in 2002. To aid future historians in their efforts in understanding the early 2000s, the canister reportedly contains a bottle of Irish whiskey, which should be well matured by 2075.
One writer who penned an essay included in the collection was Tahoe historian Carol Van Etten, author of the 2013 definitive book on Tahoe City, Tahoe City’s First 100 Years: A Sentimental Stroll Through Our Colorful Community. In the spirit of keeping the contents of the time capsule secret, so as not to spoil the surprise for current Tahoe Lake Elementary kids who might open up the canister when they are almost 60, I will not disclose what Van Etten wrote in her essay. But she did say that after reading it over again for the first time in 20 years, she would write the same thing for Lake Tahoe today.
David Antonucci, author of Environmental History of Lake Tahoe, remembers writing two essays for the capsule: one about bicycling and another about cross-country skiing. “It was a little intimidating. I had to get it out of my head that this was something to be read 75 years from now and so it had to be perfect,” he said.
A lot can happen in 20 years, and my biggest challenge in writing this story was finding who the teacher or teachers were at Tahoe Lake who helped a group of kids make their contribution to the time capsule. It was a pleasant trip down memory lane as I spoke to about a half dozen teachers who were active around the time my kids were at Tahoe Lake, but no memory bells rang for any of them about this project. They were all unfailingly helpful in my quest, tossing out names of other teachers who might be the one, but alas, no one remembered the time capsule. Perhaps it is appropriate that just like everything else in the time capsule, it will remain an unanswered question until it is cranked open long after most of us are gone.
But first, the Rotary Club of Tahoe City, North Lake Tahoe Historical Society, and perhaps Placer County and/or the Tahoe City Public Utility District need to come up with a suitable new location to bury the capsule where it can hopefully reside peacefully. One suggestion was near the Penny Bear at Heritage Park in the center of town. This might be appropriate since the time capsule, like Tahoe bears, took a break in the middle of its 70-year hibernation to wander around Tahoe City and was fortunately captured before it got into trouble at a garbage facility.
In the meantime, you can view the capsule as it sits quietly in the Gatekeeper’s Museum. It’s located next to the newspaper archives and Tahoe Lake class photos that can keep a long-time Tahoe native like myself busy for hours reminiscing about the past.